Thursday, December 31, 2015



A few years ago, back in the day when laptops were rarely seen and only a lucky few had them, much less a home computer – I watched a movie about a writer who had put his entire newly written novel onto his laptop.  In a few seconds he managed to trip and the laptop went flying out of his hands onto the street. Before he could stand up a truck ran over the computer, flattening it and the novel was gone forever.  The anguish the man suffered was properly conveyed on the screen, and I’m sure every writer in the world could feel his pain.

What am I going to do now?

I sat there wondering – didn’t he at least print that novel or save it on a floppy? (I just aged myself even more, didn’t I?)

All that hard work -  95,000 words - and I never even had it printed!

Well, I took it to heart. I made a regular habit to back up my writings religiously to a computer, flash drive (these days), and at least 1 email to myself to save it electronically.   The latter I did mostly for access purposes to write on something from wherever I am.  Now we have ‘clouds’, but by either email or uploading into cyberspace, it still saved my work regardless of the reason.


"Where's the diary, Dr. Jones?
"You have it - in your pocket."

Bandits supposedly broke into my house and stole all the electronics in the house (mine and a roommates), including my laptop.

I feel so............nothing. 
I had backed up everything up until about 4 weeks before the break in.

My flashdrive was (thankfully!) in another location of the house, and inconspicuously hidden, so the backed up work was not all lost. Not all, but that’s another whole story.

Thank God I remembered where he kept the extra copy!

And they couldn’t take my back-ups on email.   I changed my passwords immediately anyway but still – it was tucked away in e-pockets they never would know about.

They will never find it - right HERE!

The only thing I lost were updated drafts of a few things I had written that last few weeks up to the day of the break-in.  That I would have to rewrite again. (sigghhhh)

I need what's in here - on the paper, Dr. Jones!

PLUS – the laptop had a password login protection.  If they still got in, then stolen my copyrights – I’d have proof of about 98% of it that it was mine.  Snagged.  Done deal.  Pay up at the court window.

Snagged! Turn over the rights, son!

I miss some of those things I just about finished, and now have to re-start from old drafts.  This crime was not just of techy value, but a jab to the soul, a crime of the heart.

My new work is gone.
But take heart - this evolved me too, so good things came out of it.

The Importance of our Creative Work

Each piece is a new baby, needing attention, some love for it from the heart, sunlight and growth (editing), and to be seen.  I took a lot of time brain storming and crafting each piece, which entitles any artist to be very upset when work is plagiarized or entirely disappears.

Willie was right! This diamond is so perfect, it glows!
Not just written pieces but all kinds of art work should be photographed, logged and saved in several different places.

How dependent I had become to digital.

This robbery also showed me just how much I had become dependent on digital.  Too dependent.  I was forced to revert to my old legal pad and good pens days, the good old days.

Let me tell you – I still wrote a lot by hand.  I even appreciated being able to write on a tablet of paper when I would have previously been worried about knocking over drinks onto my laptop, but it wasn’t a problem for a few weeks.

Oh be serious!....I'm perfectly able my compu......ummmm.

Plus I had the written proof of a few new ideas that are MINE!

I started 4 stories on paper.  (Of course when I finally got a laptop I typed them into documents.)  By sheer determination to keep going despite my lack of digital freedom.  

I'm going back in - by hand!
It took some getting used to again, and my mind was faster than my hand so it was a little frustrating and I had to keep making little notes of bigger points/plots so I didn’t forget anything, but I still managed to write at least 1 legal pad full of stories.

Drawing....(ehem) DRAFTING ideas for a story.  Yep!

I had to – or I would have burst.

Crap - She waited too long!

Inventory it!
Keep some kind of manuscript log.  This is another way of not only keeping dibs on what you send out into the cold dark cyber world, but a simple spreadsheet can help you keep track of when it was sent, to whom, how long of a response time to expect, simultaneous submissions allowed, money earned or spent, contests, etc. 

I know I sent that story to an anthology sometime in.......

Make it work for you!  And back that up into a hidden corner as well.

........and now I just have to find that manuscript in a shoe box in my garage....'s in here somewhere....

Tag it!
One of the first things the Detective asked me was the description of the laptop and did I have any kind of ID numbers saved so they can maybe track it and capture the criminal and my property.

I didn’t have those numbers, although I did lock the screen and changed all my passwords. Still, that was a dumb move on my part.   Learn from my mistake here.  Take pictures of all S/N numbers, Windows Product ID, service ID and the kind of computer you have and all the tags on it.
I'll laser my name onto my laptop!

Same for your smaller toys.  Send yourself an email to several places with those pics and typed information, load it in the clouds, hire a personal security team to guard it or hide it in your shoes.  Whatever way you fancy, keep some kind of documentation records of your pertinent toys, and keep them relatively accessible in case of a robber or plagiarist.

If this (God-forbid) ever happens to me again – they will be BUSTED quickly!

I want my laptop back!  YOU would have done the same!

I Have To Create
SIMPLY PUT-  I HAVE TO WRITE or I will implode or something equally horrific! No robbers, doctors, surgeons, faith healers, or plagiarizers could possibly stop this disease I have.  I really don’t want them to try either.

(See my story in September about NEVER KEEPING A WRITER FROM WRITING!)

Triple-quadruple backup everything!

The Good News!

I did finally get a new computer – and it took 2 months but well worth the wait because it was exactly what I needed for so many things!

I know it's my medallion but it's for my new laptop!

I had to save for it and do some research, dodging several slick salespeople, and serious flash saving but I did it, sacrificing some needs and comforts to buy it!

At last - back on the Wifi and writing again!

The prize to the one who finds my old computer!

Oh, I would kiss him for a lot less of a reason!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Re-using Plot Devices: New Hope Awakens

Hey everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and have a happy start to your New Year.

For a while I wondered what to blog about today. With the holidays I've had little to no time to concentrate on writing, let alone a blog post on writing when I received a series of books from a self pubbed friend of mine. She asked me to read some of her books to help with a manuscript she's stuck on.

Easy, right? Minus getting caught up in a full Harry Potter marathon, I make time to read and am always on the lookout for a new series.

I started the first book. It was good. Heroine is a loner, but has a big personality. She knows who she is and doesn't take crap from anyone. Nice. I love me a strong heroine. She meets the popular jock who probably wouldn't give her the time of day ever, but she's interesting and he can't help himself. Okay. Not my favorite plot ever, but it's been done before and works. Then he falls madly in love to the point he'd die for her. Umm, okay. I get books are short. It can be hard to tell time frames, but yeesh. Instant teenage love.

I finished the first book. Was it my favorite? No. Would I read it again? No. But it was a good read and I enjoyed it. She's sold quite a few copies, so it's working. I start the second book. Loner girl, book nerd, big personality. Sound familiar? The book, while having a slightly different premise from the first, is basically the same plot. Loner girl gets jock to fall madly in love, blah, blah, blah. Okay. Now I'm bored. I start the third. Supernatural loner girl with big personality gets popular jock to fall in love. Really?

All of these books had slightly different plot lines and characters, but all of them followed the same story arc. I wondered, how many times is it okay to use the same story arc? Nicholas Sparks does and manages to sell a butt load of books every year, but does that make it okay? When is it time to say enough is enough and try something new, branch out?

Then I saw Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. And I have to admit I was slightly disappointed by what I found. **Slight Spoilers Ahead**

There are a lot of similarities between the Force Awakens and Episode IV A New Hope. Like, look at the titles. Both hint at a new beginning. A fresh start. The main characters are both from desert planets, tinker with mechanical objects and can fly whatever craft they get their hands on. There are droids with the only piece of information that can achieve the rebellions goal. There is a Leia character for both movies that is already the voice of the rebellion. Both movies have a Han Solo type character who struggles with his role and tries to run away. Even the evil brought back is similar enough to the original. There's even a cantina like place, and their objectives as a whole in the movie are very similar.

Does it work? Yes. The movie broke records it's opening weekend. And while I believe nostalgia played a huge roll, for me personally, I wanted to see loose ends tied up. The problem? I didn't really feel like they were. It was simply the same story retold 30 years in the future.

Reusing Plot devices happens a lot in fiction. There truly are only so many plot lines to write about. How you write about them makes all the difference. If your mc is pregnant in the first book, your second should face different problems. Step out of the comfort zone and flex your writing muscles. It's easy to go with what we know works and to fall into the trap of "it's selling, so I should keep going with this formula". It may sell, but eventually people will catch on and it could backfire.

Raise the bar with each story you write. Step outside your comfort zone and find that interesting character that you fear putting into words. Don't let a paycheck drive you to formulas. (Or if you do, at least take enough pride in your work to change the plotline up a little.) Who knows, you may find the one plot that's never been told.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hope for the Holidays

Merry Christmas for all that celebrate. Thinking about what to write for this Christmas Eve post, I remembered an article that ran in my neighborhood newsletter six years ago. I updated the story for this post. 

December 2009, I was sitting at the hospital with my mother as she was about to have a knee replacement. I was concerned about her, and, at the same time, thankful it wasn't me who was about to have surgery. As I tried to find something to write about, and at the same time distract my mother, I asked her if she had any ideas; she thought for a minute or two and asked me if I knew the story about the first Christmas tree. I didn't, so she told me the story.

"There was once a little Scandinavian Princess, who had everything she ever wanted. At Christmas her father, wanting to please her, took her for a sleigh ride to admire the trees and pick one out to take home. All of the beautiful trees were puffed up, proud to offer themselves to the princess, but she looked past them to a small scraggly tree. The spaces in the branches were occupied by birds and squirrels, but the little princess saw past the imperfections and took the tree home. She was so happy with it, she filled the spaces with decorations and thought the tree was beautiful.”

At this point, I interrupted my mom and said, "That's terrible, what happened to all of the little animals that lived in the tree?"

 My mom said patiently, or not so patiently if anyone knows my mom, "Oh, they all found new homes, but you are MISSING the point of the story. The point is that the little tree was small and scrawny, but to the little girl, the it was perfect and beautiful.”

Okay, whatever. I was happy to sit with my mom--she was having a big operation and needed company. I was hopeful that the surgery would go well, and she would be doing better the next day.

Later, I realized that I didn't quite get the message of her story, even after she explained it to me.

Hours after surgery, my mom was up and even walked (albeit only a few feet). I mentioned to her that I used her story for this feature. She smiled and said, "Oh, did I tell you that at the end of the story all the animals followed the little princess home and lived with her?”

Back in 2009, the day after the story, I decided that I finally understood. Like the little princess, many of us have lots of beautiful things. And I was hopeful that we could be like the little princess and see past the imperfections of the world to find beauty and happiness. 

Re-reading old articles can often be painful. But this one, even with the comma splices and dangling modifiers, still brought a smile.  That was a happy time in my life. My mom rocked the knee replacement. And the little princess story still applies; for me, first drafts often look like a scraggly tree. And if I can find the beauty of a solid frame within my story, I can finish it out, add a little glitz, and have a polished piece. 

Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Gifts We Lay

This article originally appeared five years ago on my personal blog. I hope you enjoy.

"Last year I picked up a $5 Christmas CD while shopping at Kohl's. The proceeds went to charity and I needed some new tunes. Last week I finally listened to it.

First time through, I was a mite annoyed. The songs were different.

Second time through, I recognized voices.

The third time, I listened with a different ear. Turns out, it's a fabulous rock/bluesy Christmas CD, the perfect addition to my library.

Track one is my favorite: Rob Thomas singing "A New York City Christmas'. Every word is poignant. Each note, pleading.

His words stopped me. They made me wonder.

"...Yeah I'm sending you a Merry New York Christmas
And a prayer for peace on earth
Within our time
Oh, the sidewalk angels echo hallelujah
And we understand them
Now more than ever..."

And we understand them? Really? I never stopped to do that. I never tried to understand them. Not the sidewalk angels. Nor the others, either.

I remember feeling unsafe in the days following 9/11. More than once, I imagined myself cowering in a closet, bombs exploding in my back yard, the 'enemy' advancing on my neighborhood. I felt what that must feel like. What too many feel every day.

Awful, awful, awful.

Now, digging deep, I find a memory and dust it off. It's 1970. I'm in 7th grade. The teacher closes the blinds and hushes a darkened room full of expectant pre and barely-teens. Then the whirring begins as the 8mm film threads itself. Suddenly Stalin's armies burst on scene. Bombing Poland.

In black and white the shells whistled. Buildings exploded. Unceasing. Relentless. Panzers rolling in to cities reduced to rubble, residents surely shaking in their shoes. If they had any left after the long, cruel 2nd world war.

It was supposed to be over. Their side, our side, had won. So why didn't the allied forces stop Stalin?

No one came. Not the English. Not the Americans. In spite of Poland's repeated and frenzied cries for help, the great nations looked away. Broken and battered, the Poles caved and Stalin installed a communist government in Warsaw. Wasn't that what our forebears had been fighting against all along?

I cried angry tears. Tears of anguish. Tears of shame. I was thirteen. Like the Poles I couldn't fathom why my country didn't help them. Then time marched on and I forgot what I didn't understand.

Fast forward forty years to 2010. To me, listening to Rob Thomas's Christmas song.

"...Call on your angels
Come down to the city
Crowd around the big tree
All you strangers who know me
Bring your compassion
Your understanding
Lord how we need it
On this New York City Christmas..."

Call me slow. But happy Christmas. I finally understand.

"...So call on your angels
Your beaten and broken
It's time that we mend them
So they don't fade with the season
Let our mercy be the gifts we lay
From Brooklyn to Broadway
And celebrate each and every day
This New York City Christmas."

My wish this holiday season
Is that we all find understanding.

That compassion guide us.

And that mercy be the gifts we lay.


~ Olivia J. Herrell

**Disclaimer: I am no expert on foreign affairs, or world wars, or he said/she said. I'm just reporting my own experience. No more. Unfortunately, the war continues and Syria is our new Poland.**

Rob Thomas video courtesy of Lyrics courtesy of Polish memory jogger courtesy of Wikipedia."

Entire article courtesy of Olivia J. Herrell, That Rebel with a Blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

One Writer's Holiday Gift List

So last week Lisa did a fabulous post on appropriate holiday gifts for writers - jump HERE to check it out, because it's full of really practical ideas. For today's post, I want to riff on that one a little. Like, what does a real writer's Christmas wish list look like? A real writer who's also a nurse practitioner and a mother and a wife? And who just remodeled her kitchen and celebrated a book release or two. You know. Like, say, me...

1. I want someone to do the adulting required to fix my burned-out headlight.

2. I would love a massage and a pedicure. On the same day. Followed up by a gorgeous little cocktail made with a fancy herbal syrup or a liqueur I can't pronounce.

3. No Christmas shopping has been done. Yet. So, if someone could do it for me, that would be awesome.

4. Actually, I think I can handle the shopping, but if someone would wrap the damned presents, I'd be SO happy!

5. More adulting required: My son needs to take his driver's test, so, like, figure out how to schedule it for me, okay? Thanks!

6. Also, if someone could broker a truce between our cat and our dogs, I'd be your friend for life.

7. Amazon Gift Cards. (Because every writer is a reader at heart.)

8. Dish towels that match my new kitchen. (White with primary color accents, in case you need specifics.)

9. Two words: Author Promo. Anything you could do to help would be SO appreciated. Actually, this one should be a lot higher on the list...

10. Peace and happiness, however that works for you.

A couple years ago I went to one of those forced employee training things that administration loves so well, and I took something surprisingly meaningful from it. The organization had decided that instead of treating everyone the way we'd like to be treated, we should treat others the way THEY'D like to be treated. To me, this means paying attention to people and respecting their differences. I'm not perfect at this - far from it, in fact - but that's my goal for this and every other year. It's the least I can do to bring more peace to the world.

Thank you all very much for reading along. Whether you stumbled over my blog posts, picked up one of my books, or did me the great favor of critiquing one of my projects before publication, I'm grateful for your time and attention. And I absolutely wouldn't get far without the friendship and support of other writers, especially the group here at RelentlessWriters. Thanks so much, you guys!

I hope your holidays are joyful, I hope the stressful bits pass quickly, and I hope you get everything on YOUR list. See ya' in 2016!

Monday, December 7, 2015

10 Gifts for Writers They'll Actually Use

Now that you’ve survived pre-Black Friday, Black Friday, pre-Cyber Monday, Cyber Monday and the entire Cyber week, you may find there is still one person on your list that no gadget, game, or gift card seems to fit. I’m talking about the writer in your life. And no doubt, you’ve exhausted the number of different notebooks, journals, coffee mugs, pens, t-shirts, pillows, bookmarks and tote bags, and are wondering, what you could give that would be useful to that dear writer you know. So in no particular order of importance or preference, I’ve listed ten gifts that will not only impress the writer in your life, they'll demonstrate how much you understand and support his or her writing:

1. Scrivener Writing SoftwareIf your novelist or memoirist isn’t already using this software, this might be their next best friend. The software helps a writer outline and structure their manuscript, organize notes and research, and easily manage their book project from start to finish. Downloads of the software run $40-$45

2. Single-serving coffee makerStarbucks or other coffee shop gift cards are always a welcome treat, but writing in those places can sometimes be less than ideal. Not only that, the entire endeavor can end up being more of a distraction and time waster for your writer. So rather than having him go to the café, have the café there at home (pastries and cookies are optional) with a single serving coffee maker. Machines can be pricey, but you can pick up a good one for $100 or less.

3. Kindle or NookMost writers are avid readers. While they'll always appreciate print books, they can't carry or house all the books they'd love to read. With an e-reader, they can carry an entire library wherever they go. Right now, holiday sales are going on, and you can pick one up for less than $100.

4. Spotify subscriptionMusic can not only help a writer get in the mood to write, it can inspire the creation of worlds and characters. Music can illicit emotions that turn into lush settings and atmospheric scenes. An individual premium subscription is $10 a month, but why not treat everyone in your family with a subscription? Until the end of the month, you can get the family plan for the same price.

5. Headphones–A good set of headphones can help free a writer from external distractions and immerse him or her in the world of their characters or focus on the right words for an emotional scene. They are available everywhere, so holiday sales are sure to have them, but do your research first. You can spend very little or a whole lot, depending on your budget, but a decent pair headphones will run around $100.

6. Audible membership–Good readers make good writers but if they’re busy writing and juggling other aspects of their life like jobs, spouses and children, they may not have time to open a book or turn on an e-reader. With Audible, while commuting, working out, or working around the house, they can be reading with their ears. After the trial membership, the monthly fee is $15. 

7. Dragon Speech Recognition software–You can help boost your writer’s productivity with dictation software. It enables a writer to ramble away and create his first draft without letting his inner editor get in the way. This software is especially helpful for writers who are slow typists or who have physical issues that make using a keyboard difficult. Normally, the software costs $150 to $250. Right now the company has download versions on sale for up to 50% off, and you can get it for even less on Amazon.

8. Editorial services–Before the author in your life sends off her novel out into the world, whether to an agent or indie publisher or straight to self-publishing, she should have an editor go over it. The cost of these services can vary widely, but bear in mind, the adage “you get what you paid for” absolutely applies here.  

9. Photography services–Part of the writing life involves promotion and marketing, and it starts with a professional headshot. The cost varies for these services, depending on your area and how much you’re willing to spend. Either way, your beloved writer will be so appreciative when she can finally replace the selfie that's on Twitter or on her website. 

10. Writing workshop or webinar– A writing workshop or class provides a great environment for your writer to connect with other writers, receive constructive feedback and get inspired to stay on their writing path.There may be organizations in your area that offer writing workshops and classes. Start with your neighborhood library and local bookstores. Costs can range anywhere from $50 to $350 and depend on a variety of factors, including subject matter, teacher, class length, availability, etc. If there are none happening locally, Writer’s Digest offers online workshops and live webinars throughout the year. Speakers and teachers are usually publishing industry experts. Fees are reasonable, and classes are accessible anywhere your writer lives.   

Most of the people who have an idea for a book won’t end up writing it. That’s because they quickly find writing a book is a long road of hard work. So for the writer in your life, the best gifts are the gifts that help them write every day. They convey your support and belief in them, and more importantly, help them achieve their writing goals. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

THE END: A Commentary on Editing


Two of my favourite words. To a writer, they are the culmination of days, months, or years of blood, sweat, and tears. But they are misleading. We write them, sit back, and revel in our cleverness, in our determination, our grit, our savvy, our persistence, and our sheer magnificent brilliance. It could grace the page of a blog post, social media blast, short story, novella, screenplay, or novel. Writing THE END feels incredible, but it’s just another beginning. THE END is the start of EDITING.

I recently attended Bookapalooza, which is a really cool venue in my hometown where local authors get together and sell their wares. There were speakers and panels and celebrity guest authors. I was honoured to sit on a panel with fellow romance authors Molly O’Keefe and Mary Sullivan. These ladies are veterans. They’ve written a lot of books. They’ve been doing this a long time. Avelynn is my debut historical romance. I was the newb in the room, but they welcomed me with open arms. I was humbled and thrilled to sit at the table beside them. *girlie fan crush moment over* Back to my point: one of the audience members asked the panel a question, “What do you like better, writing or editing?”

Interestingly enough, both Molly and Mary liked the editing phase of writing better. I stared at them gaped mouthed as they waxed poetic about the brilliance of polishing a first draft and turning something misshapen and clunky into a work of art. I concurred with their sentiment, but ‘like_editing?’ That sounded like something out of a fairy tale. Seriously. Editing_is_hard!
Gone is the euphoria of creation, the buzz of new witty lines of dialogue, the high of brilliant lines of prose. In its place comes the breakdown and rebuild, the dissection and amputation. Our writing is better for it, sure, but the_pain, the_torture.

I recently (like yesterday) finished editing the second book in the Avelynn series. It took me just as long to edit the manuscript as it did to write it. Now, I blame NaNoWriMo for part of the first draft’s shortcomings (writing 50,000 words only to cut 40,000 of them, sucked) but I’m also a pantser. The first draft is a misnomer, it should be called Hundreds of Pages of Verbal Diarrhea. It’s the thrill and rush of creating new worlds, populating them with interesting people, and then making them do all sorts of crazy shit. Shit that just pops into your head, like out_of_no_where.

Inherent in that wild, organic process is wee bit of surplus and ludicrous, irrelevant tangents. We write THE END and then grab our red pens, or click up our track changes and get to work. And we keep working. For_a_very_long_time. We tweak and hone, over and over again. First drafts become tenths drafts and then morph into eighteenth drafts. We get to a point when we can’t figure the damn thing out anymore and call in for back up. We send it out to beta readers and beg for perspective and direction. The verdict comes in, and we crack our knuckles and sit down and get to work. Again. For_a_very_long_time. By the fortieth something draft, we pray we’ve reached the finish line. We send the manuscript to our agent or editor, or we query and submit. We get feedback. It’s still not quite cooked all the way through. So we sit_down_again.

For this final round of baking, I used the Heminway App. The whole writing process this is a never ending learning curve. I now know, I should have tried this handy little resource a few drafts prior. But, nonetheless, I plugged in my pages and reduced my passive voice, cut my adverbs, and cleaned up my run-on sentences. In a final pass through, I obliterated my comma splices and polished my prose until it shone. In short, I made Avelynn #2 as close to phenomenal as I could possible get it.

The good news is, I’m getter faster. My process is more efficient. I’m learning. Avelynn took me six months to research, a year and a half to write, and a year and a half to edit. The second book in the series took me a month to research (same time period just a slightly different setting) a year to write, and a year to edit. I’ve shaved my process in half!

Editing is essential. It’s a tough market out there. As authors, we have to put our best work forward. That being said, do I like editing? I love the results, but I’d rather each broccoli. Trust me. That’s saying_a_lot.

What do you think? Editing: love it or tolerate it. :D

In gratitude,
Marissa xo